"Hows it coming, poppin?"
William Badson looked up from his workbench. "Just great, Master! Im just finishing it up. Here, see!"
With that, he picked up the oddly-shaped object and tossed it to his Master, Nicodemus Whateley. His elder neatly caught it one-handed without interrupting a cut of his ever-present deck with the other hand.
He studied it carefully, then nodded. "Top marks, my boy. All done by the ancient rituals. I take it my...gift was suitable."
"Oh yes, Master. It seemed to almost...leap to the task. It made the ceremony much easier."
Smiling in approval, Nicodemus tossed the object back to William. He caught it. "Well, you know what to do, boy. Go out and have some fun." The words had barely left his mouth before young Badson was out the door and down the stairs.
Moving to the window, Nicodemus watched William run across the front yard of the estate. As he noted how well Saul and the recovered Ezekial had cleaned up after the events of the last few days, he felt a presence at his side.
"They grow up so quickly, dont they, Delores?"
"Oh yes, Nicky. Hes like the son we never had."
"We dont have a son, my dear. Yet." That prerogative was currently taken for the Master, and little Lucifer was more than a handful as it was. However, Niocdemus hoped to produce his own get one day, when the current situation was resolved.
"Exactly. And Williams just like him."
Nicodemus sighed tolerantly at his...sisters (for lack of better word - one could spend forever trying to untangle the various crossed branches of the family tree) twisted logic. Thank...well, not goodness, but something that he had escaped the insanity that had claimed so many of his family members.
Chuckling maniacally, he continued on, "Boys will be boys. Its our purpose to channel him, to fulfill the ancient prophecies. Speaking of our purpose, we have work to do. Shall we?"
Taking Dolores by the arm, the two of them headed out to pursue the family business.
* * * * *
"You guys want to play?"
Timmy Derrick looked up from the ground where he and Sally were playing marbles. It was a slow, boring day at the orphanage. Most days were. Granted, the place was never the most thrilling place in the world. But all the recent deaths among the miners had swelled its population, and the only way to get a breath of fresh air was to go outside.
He glared at the blonde-haired boy who had simply...appeared. He was just standing there, his hands behind his back. Timmy hadnt heard him crawl over the fence, or seen him come through the back door of the orphanage. Anyway, Willlliiiaaam (nobody called him "Willy" or "Billy") was an orphan, but he didnt stay at the orphanage. Sometimes he just...appeared. Watching. Waiting. He gave Timmy the creeps.
Timmy looked over at Sally, who was eying the new arrival warily as well. She had hopped the fence to play with Timmy. Even though her parents were dead, she didnt live at the orphanage. Instead, she stayed with that weird Longfellow guy when she wasnt out on the streets acquirin something, as she put it.
He shrugged. "Sure. Ya got yer marbles?"
William shook his head. "Thats dumb. How about a new game?" He brought his hands out. In it was a weird brown shape. It was kinda like an egg, but pointed at both ends. There was a big white series of stitches along one side.
Sally sniffed the air. "Did a cow die out here?"
"Its fresh leather, stupid," William explained. "I made it myself."
"What is it?" Timmy asked, eying it warily.
"I call it a kickball. You use your foot and...well, kick it around."
"Its not round," Sally pointed out, reasonably enough. "Why call it a ball?"
William rolled his eyes. "The shapes...important. Otherwise Id make it round, sure. But its got to look like this."
Sally looked at Timmy. Who looked back at her and shrugged. "Sure, lets play." Pocketing their marbles, the two got up off their knees and walked towards to William. He held the ball out in both hands, then dropped it and kicked it with his toe.
Caught by surprise, Timmy held his hands up and the ball nestled firmly into them. He had to admit, the balls shape was perfect for catching. Experimentally, he dropped the ball and tried to hit it with his foot. He failed, and it bounced off the ground. Leaping forward, Sally kicked it on the fly and sent it spinning off into where it slammed into the fence.
"Hey, this is kinda fun!" she exclaimed.
"Let me take a turn!" Timmy yelled, running off after it. He caught it this time, sending it bouncing across the grass.
"Make sure all the kids get a turn," William called out. "And tell them they owe me one."
Timmy and Sally only vaguely heard him. But by now they were thoroughly engrossed in booting the kickball across the orphanage yard.
* * * * *
Tombstone Frank woke to darkness.
The next to the last he remembered was he and the other Rangers facing down the
Whateleys pet horrors in front of their estate.
The last thing he remembered was a thousand pricking needles sticking into his body from all directions. He didnt remember who was doing it, or where he had been: he just remembered the pain.
For the Harrowed, pain was pretty damn rare. Walking around as a corpse tended to inure you to the little aches and pains of humanity. Not to mention, say, a .44 in the chest. Frank had taken such wounds before, and laughed them off. The pain he had just felt was nothing like that.
Or had he just felt it? He didnt know how long he had been unconscious. It could have been days. Weeks. Months. Typically he only "shut down" for a few hours, when his body and the demon inside it demanded it. But now, floating in a black void, he realized he had no idea how long it had been since the pain. It could have been seconds.
Dimly, Frank tried to open his eyes, but the blackness remained absolute, unresolved. He didnt have a whole lot of feelin sensation in his body anyway, but this was worse than usual. He couldnt get a sense of his arms, or legs. He couldnt hear anything, and he couldnt even smell the usual underlying odor of decay that accompanied him wherever he went.
Experimentally, he...reached back into the depths of his soul, like a man tonguing the empty spot where a tooth had fallen out. But if the demon that shared his body was there, it was so dimmed down that he couldnt feel it. Assuming it was even there.
Suddenly there was a bright, sharp flash of pain. Frank couldnt tell where it came from, or what part of his body felt it. The pain was everywhere, overwhelming. He would have screamed, but had no mouth. For a timeless second his thoughts were literally overwhelmed with the pain. Then it stopped, as abruptly as it had come, leaving not a single after-ache.
Then another burst of pain. Different, unique, but just as excruciating. And another, and another.
The pain soon built up to a steady stream of sharp flashes. Dimly, in the small part of his mind that was still coherent, Frank screamed Let it stop, let it stop, let it stop...!
* * * * *
And back behind the orphanage back yard, the other kids joined Timmy and Sally in their fun.